Novavax CEO: ‘We’re on track’ to deliver a couple billion COVID-19 vaccine doses this year

Novavax CEO Stanley Erck joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the 2022 outlook for global COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Video transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: As COVID hospitalizations surge with the rise of the Omicron variant, the race is heating up to get vaccines distributed across the globe. Novavax is the latest to file for emergency use authorization of its protein-based vaccine in 10 new regulatory agencies. The vaccine, which has already been shipped out to Europe, has also been approved for emergency use by the WHO and agencies in India, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

Let's bring in Novavax CEO Stanley Erck, joining us as part of JP Morgan's annual health care conference. We've also got our very own Anjalee Khemlani joining in on the conversation. Stanley, always good to have you on the show. I know the last time we spoke, we talked about this authorization and what specifically it means for Novavax to have this vaccine out there, especially as we continue to see these cases from the Omicron variant. How does this vaccine change the landscape in terms of how we tackle this latest surge?

STANLEY ERCK: Well, I think a lot. I think that-- you note that we have shipped our first product to Europe. We've actually shipped our first product to Indonesia. We shipped 10 million doses. We focused on low and middle income countries first. And we are now actually vaccinating people, which is a terrific feeling.

And I think that all is going to happen is going to accelerate over the coming couple of quarters. The hard part is you have to balance in this first quarter, as you're launching, and you're trying to get product globally, and trying to get it to low and middle income countries at the same time you're trying to fulfill other obligations, it'll be a little bit rocky at first. But it's going great right now. And so the production sites have scaled up, and we're starting to make lots and lots of product.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: I want to touch on that, Stan. Can you fill us in a little bit about that ramp-up-- maybe a number on how many doses per month you're anticipating throughout the year as you continue, especially as we know that you're suddenly met with all of this demand at a time when people didn't necessarily expect you would.

STANLEY ERCK: Well, we are. We expected we would. And we expected it starting to happen. We are on track to do what we have said we would do, which is to get to the point where we can make a couple of billion doses this year. So we're at a rate-- we're at a rate in this quarter of over 200 million doses per month by the end of this quarter.

And that's going to satisfy a lot of this demand. But the market for primary vaccination, two-dose vaccination, which is now being talked about as three-dose vaccination, is unsatisfied. In high income countries, 30% of the people are not vaccinated. And in low and middle income countries, it's a lot bigger. And in fact, when you're talking about a third dose and perhaps a fourth dose, boosting, you know, 90% of the world's population haven't had that yet. So we've got a lot of work to do ahead of us, but we're on track to do it.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Absolutely. I'm so glad you brought that up, especially as we talk about resetting those numbers of vaccinated, if you do consider the three doses fully. One of the things that we've seen other companies run into on the ground is, especially for low income countries, the struggle with logistics, especially for the mRNA ones. There's a different requirement for cold storage. Have you already had discussions and you already have a solid plan to be able to get those injections in arms considering the struggle that there is?

STANLEY ERCK: We do. There are over a billion doses of vaccine distributed throughout the world, particularly in low and middle income countries. And a refrigerated-- what's called the cold chain process-- has been in place for a decade now. That's what we do. We ship at refrigerated temperatures, we use the standard cold chain that's in place.

And we have a couple of things to our advantage. One is that it's simple-- refrigerated temperatures. Number two, it's stable. We've got a stability of nine months instead of six months. And that helps a lot in the distribution chain. And then finally, we ship it in a vial that's all pre-mixed.

You don't have to do anything to it. You just stick a needle in it, and it's all pre formulated. So a lot of benefits to our vaccine and distribution.

ZACK GUZMAN: Stan, Zack here. Thanks again for coming on. I mean, we talk about the roles that now each one of these vaccine makers is going to have to play, it does seem like, you know, Novavax stepping into the fold here across the globe is going to be rather important when it comes to equality in getting them into the arms of everybody across the globe. A lot of experts have been saying that that's really kind of the reason why we saw Omicron spread as quickly as it did because global vaccination rates are so low. I mean, would you say that it's fair to call Novavax now as it steps into the fold maybe the most important player in really getting this under control?

STANLEY ERCK: Well, I'm, of course, not unbiased. But I do believe that's true for all the reasons that I just stated before. I think it's true. We're going to make a significant impact on this COVID pandemic. And we have the right vaccine to do that.

The other vaccines have done really spectacular breakthroughs in getting to the marketplace. But we need-- there's a void, and we're going to fill that void. You know, it's not exclusively low and middle income countries, because high income countries need this. We need to get past the vaccine hesitancy. We need to get boosters that are safe and efficacious. And we have data to show that ours does exactly that.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Stan, I want to talk about that safety part of it. After hitting the market, we saw each vaccine company one after another hit certain concerns. Do you have any insight right now or do you have any things that you're looking for that you might have considerations of as the vaccine gets rolled out into the market-- and a backup plan or a plan of action in case you do see some safety concerns?

STANLEY ERCK: Well, we have what we call a benign safety profile. There's a couple of things you think about. One is tolerability-- how much local and systemic reactions there are and how long they last. And I think we have the best tolerability profile there is. Safety-- to be fair, we don't have tens of millions of doses out there yet. And so you don't have the opportunity to see what rare or infrequent events there are.

We haven't seen any or much, and our label will reflect that. But we have a very standard, protein-based vaccine that has so far proven safe in not only COVID, but we've used it in flu, and we've used it in malaria. So we're pretty confident.

AKIKO FUJITA: Stan, there's a sense right now that there's a bit of rerating-- resetting of expectations on COVID and learning to live with it. You know, once you get the infection, it's not just about a complete isolation, a complete shutdown anymore. The CDC changed its guidelines. We even heard from the Fed Chair today saying that businesses are just kind of learning to live with these waves.

As it stands right now, how do you think Americans should be thinking about this? We've heard that, inevitably, there could be another variant. We could see more surges. You know, is this kind of that transition we always expected this being endemic instead of a pandemic? Talk to me about how we should be resetting our expectations for the next year, let's say.

STANLEY ERCK: Well, first of all, I think you should continue to listen to the public health experts, because I'm not a public health expert. I'm the CEO of a biotechnology company. But obviously, we think about these things and we try to plan forward for how our vaccines are going to be used over time. So we've done that.

I've described our current vaccine and how it's going to be used during the pandemic and as we transition to more maybe more flu-like endemic-- we actually have a clinical trial going on that we started six months ago that it combines our flu vaccine, which we think could be the world's best flu vaccine-- we hope-- and our COVID vaccine, so that you can boost on an annual basis or semi-annual basis.

And data will tell us how frequently we're going to need to vaccinate with COVID. But we believe that, you know, we have a repertoire of respiratory vaccines that we think that we can combine and use as a single shot as this transitions to an epidemic.

ZACK GUZMAN: Exciting to have another shot here in the mix, and appreciate you coming on here to chat with us all about those plans. Stanley Erck, the CEO of Novavax, thanks again for the time alongside Yahoo Finance's Anjalee Khemlani.